It was September 11th, 2016, a really nice day in Northern Virginia to go for a drive and take photographs. I had a subject in mind — flags — the idea being to create a composite of flag images to post on social media as a remembrance of that fateful day in 2001.
I drove around for a while photographing various flags (including a slew of them that encircled the roof of a McDonald’s), and when I came into the town of Manassas I saw a flag on top of an old light post that had a unique look to it. I pulled into the adjacent fire station’s parking lot and took the shot. Heading back to my car I noticed a firefighter hosing down one of their trucks and asked if I could take his photo in front of the flag. “Ok, sure”, he said. “Let me go check with the Captain, I’ll be right back.” I wasn’t prepared for what happened next…
The firefighter returned with his Captain followed by several others who were on duty. The Captain introduced himself and said, “I hear you want to take some photos of a flag?” I felt like I was totally interrupting everyone’s daily routine and didn’t want to take too much more of his time so I pointed to the flag outside. The Captain suggested: “We have a better flag inside if you’d like to see.” So I followed everyone in and over the workbench wall was this huge flag … made out of firehose!! I could hardly believe it! “So does this work for you?”, the Captain asked. “Yes”, I managed to whisper. “Do you want to take all of us in front of the flag?” “Yes,” I whispered again.
I checked all my camera settings (shaking from excitement) while the men swiftly cleared all the stuff off the workbench. I posed the group as best I could, the light from the bay door coming from the right cast amazing shadows on their faces. I only took 5 shots. And that was that … or so I thought.
The Captain then suggested I walk around the station and take any other images I found interesting. I found a few more flags, took a few more shots, but I knew (hoped) that the group photo was going to be THE shot.
Thanking them all for their time and service, I let them know I’d be posting the images on Facebook that evening and wished them well. I did all I could do to maintain the speed limit while anxiously driving home.
All DSLR cameras these days come with a little screen on the back to look at the images right after you’ve taken them. In addition, there are “histograms” for each image that you can instantly review to determine adequate lighting. Clients often see me making adjustments to my camera during a shoot, either changing the camera’s settings, zooming into an image just taken to see if everyone’s eyes are open, or ensuring the image is tack sharp. But even with these helpful tools, all of my photography knowledge and the sophistication of the camera, the 2″ screen on the back of the camera doesn’t provide fine detail. What if there’s a slight blur because someone moved? What if the color isn’t right? What if I didn’t frame the image correctly? So many things to consider, so many things to worry about!
When I finally got home and downloaded the images I actually burst into tears. Not just because I was relieved that the 2″ image I had seen was what I wanted it to be, but because of how moving the full-sized image actually was. I saw their bravery, their toughness, their hearts, their kindness, and their devotion to duty. And to have captured this moment on September 11th … priceless!
Since that day, on every September 11th, Veterans Day and Memorial Day, I make it my mission to honor a first responder, veteran, and/or a military service member. This Memorial Day a “Hometown Hero” was nominated in recognition of his service, his image below was taken at Dingmans Ferry Cemetery in Pennsylvania. And, as is the case after (and sometimes even during) the shoot, the image I envisioned and ultimately captured, moved me to tears.